State Board Driven by Ideology

An eye opening piece from the ABJ detailing how far the State Board of Education has been corrupted since voters approved its creation

If Ohio had an all-elected state board of education as it did about 20 years ago, the current state superintendent probably wouldn’t have his job, and the school board president likely would have gotten the boot.

The reason is, the independent representative school board created by voters 60 years ago this month no longer exists.

In 1995, the legislature added eight more chairs to the 11 elected seats at the table, to be filled by the governor, and for all practical purposes, took the board out of the hands of voters and made Ohio one of only three states to have a hybrid membership.

The reason for the change: The elected 11 had endorsed a lawsuit called Nathan DeRolph vs. State of Ohio, alleging that the legislature and governor were not adequately funding public education. The governor and legislature were unhappy and changed the membership.

Now, the education of 1.8 million children is in the hands of a board that swings as far left or right as the ruling party wants it to go.

That change assured that in February this year, board president Debe Terhar, a tea party acti­vist, held her post when she came under fire for a controversial Facebook post of Adolf Hitler regarding gun regulation. The majority of the elected board members voted to oust her, but the appointed members overruled.

In March, the majority of elected members voted against hiring Gov. John Kasich’s chief education adviser, Richard Ross, as state superintendent. The appointed members put him over the top.

Today, the fact that two of 19 seats are empty — and have been for months — is of little concern because the majority represents the administration and has firm control. The board looks like this:

  • Eight of nine board committees are chaired by white men, although board gender is 9-8 male.
  • Seven of nine committees are chaired by appointees, although appointed members are outnumbered 10-7.
  • Of the seven appointees seated today, all are white and one is female.
  • The only African-American member, elected from Dayton, intends to resign by the end of the year to take a seat in city government. African-Americans account for 13 percent of Ohio’s population.
  • With the resignation of the Dayton representative, there is only one remaining member who lives in an urban district. Her vote represents about 6 percent of the 17 members, while urban districts account for about 25 percent of the Ohio student population.
  • 12 Republicans account for 70 percent of the current board’s voting power, compared with 36 percent of the state electorate registered as Republican.
  • Almost all appointees are significant Republican donors, organizers or fundraisers.
  • About a third of the members attended private schools or sent their kids to private schools. About 10 percent of the state’s students attend private schools.
  • Although the majority advocates for charter schools, which account for a little less than 10 percent of state enrollment, not one has a child in a charter school.
  • Home schoolers, who strongly oppose government intrusion into their business and represent about 2 percent of the student population, unified last year to elect one member from rural Northeast Ohio. Their representative has never had a relationship with public education and identified her primary mission as assuring that home schooling is left alone.

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